Piece by piece

February 23, 2017 GMT

Students celebrate Engineering Week

Fourth-grade students at Washington Elementary School got to build catapults Wednesday, but not until learning they were once used to launch dead livestock at an enemy.

As people once used the catapults to fight for territory, shooting a dead cow also meant shooting disease at the opposition, Debra Smith, Sylvan Learning Center’s Center Director in North Platte told Mindee Mohr’s fourth-grade class.

Smith’s visit and lesson came during National Engineering Week, Smith said as students designed their own catapults. The engineering lesson came with defining different kinds of engineering, modern uses — such as teeter-totters — and a budgeting exercise. Students could only use $20 at the “Sylvan Store” worth of supplies, in items like rubber-bands, marshmallows and cans of soda.


The exercise fulfills a science credit, encourages critical thinking and the core STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Mohr said. The budgeting and history enriched the lesson, Smith said.

“Life does not fit into one bucket,” she said. “We incorporate things all the time.”

North Platte’s Sylvan Learning Center has made its programs available to all area schools, grades kindergarten through ninth grade, Smith said. At the end of the lesson, students showed the classroom’s other teams what they created.

“Unsuccessful catapults are just as good of a learning experience as successful catapults,” Smith said. She called the younger classes “amazingly creative,” and said that sometimes, it’s the “young engineers” who do better with the exercise, adding that high school students can become caught up in it.

For Mohr, it was an opportunity to see her students learn in a hands-on way. “I love the fact that they’re building and creating,” she said.